Appalachian Trail hikers beat the heat with tubs of ice cream

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COOKE TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Halfway between Georgia and Maine, hikers along the Appalachian Trail stop at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Cumberland County to rest, refuel, and re-hydrate.

When hiking through the middle of a heat wave, cooling off is of the utmost importance.

"As hot as it is and as much as we're sweating, I don't think you can drink enough water," says Brandon Jacob of Houston, Texas.

Others walk into the Pine Grove General Store with an empty stomach, and look directly to the freezer. Inside, dozens of three-pint tubs of Hershey's Ice Cream, waiting to be devoured by the store's hungry guests.

"They're thinking about it the last 100 miles until they get here," says store owner Timothy Michael.

Pine Grove Furnace is considered the midpoint for hikers along the 2,186-mile trail which stretches from Georgia to Maine. What better way to celebrate the halfway mark than downing a half-gallon of ice cream?

Between 800 and 1,000 hikers per year, according to Michael, participate in "The Half-Gallon Challenge." The rules are simple: Finish one of the 1.5 quart tubs, and top it off with an additional pint on a cone, all in one sitting. Hikers have to buy their own ice cream, and even if they finish, they still have to pay. They do, however, walk with an authentic "Member Half-Gallon Challenge" wooden spoon, and a spot in the seasonal memory book.

"They enjoy it," Michael says of the hikers. "They time themselves. Video themselves. They'll put it on YouTube."

The challenge began in 1980, thanks to the general store's previous owner, seeing hikers who needed a few extra calories when they came into town.

On this day, with temperatures over 90 degrees, Case Krift of Cosby, Tennessee sat down in the shade with a tub of Orange Creamsicle flavor.

"I love my citrus," he says, while taking a chunk of the ice cream into his mouth, some of it landing on his beard. "I've had this circled."

Krift says his brother has hiked the Appalachian Trail before, and completed the challenge. Krift says he completed a similar challenge a few weeks earlier in Buena Vista, Virginia, using mint chocolate chip.

"This is refreshing, although honestly, right now I'm more hungry than hot," he says.

Krift finishes the challenge in a little more than a half-hour. He walks the trail alone, but as it is walking along the path, they run into fellow hikers along the way, and meet up at stops like Pine Grove Furnace.

His friends made their way to Pine Grove a few minutes later, and settled in with tubs of peanut butter and cookies and cream.

The challenge isn't for everyone, though. Especially those, like Mitchell Branscum of Manchester, Tennessee, who have a 20 mile hike still in front of them.

Branscum settles for a cheeseburger instead, choosing to refuel with protein instead of dairy. The heat this week, and rain last week, has taken its toll physically on Mitchell, but hasn't dampened his spirit.

"I've always been told 'Embrace the suck,' man. It can't always be rainbows and sunshine," he says. "If I can't deal with a little bit of sun, then something is wrong because I'm having the time of my life."

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